Types of Meniscus Tears

Meniscus tears are a common injury across all ages. The size, location, and type of meniscus tear can affect what symptoms you experience and the path of treatment. In this article, we will be looking at the different types of meniscus tears. 

Meniscus Tear TypesTypes of Meniscus Tears

Types of Meniscus Tears: Acute Injury

Meniscus tears are more frequently seen with traumatic injury in sports activities, in both contact or non-contact sport, and it can occur with a simple action like standing from a chair or bending while gardening.  The specific mechanism that normally causes a meniscus tear is when the knee is bent and then there is a twisting motion which causes a shearing force on the meniscus resulting in a tear.  Meniscus tears are named by how they look, here are the most common types of meniscus tears caused by acute injury.

Knee Meniscus Tears

Horizontal Cleavage Tear

The meniscus is wedge-shaped with the outer edge being thicker and becomes thinner toward the middle. A horizontal tear occurs on the thicker outer edge separating the top and bottom so it looks like two C’s sitting on top of each other. Because these tears occur on the outer edge where there is good blood flow they will heal well on their own or with surgical repair. 

Bucket Handle Tear

The meniscus is cartilage is shaped like two C’s, the largest type of tear is called a bucket handle tear because as it travels along the rim of the meniscus there is a long strip of cartilage that looks like a handle. Because this type of meniscus tear is large it can cause the knee to lock or limit the knee from fully extending. 

Flap Tears

There are times when the torn piece of cartilage flips over, this is called a flap tear. This may cause the knee to feel like its catching or locking. It may also cause the knee to buckle with activity. For both bucket handle and flap tear if the knee is locking you will likely need arthroscopic surgery in order to restore full range of motion of the knee. 

Radial Tears of the Meniscus 

These tears start in the center of the meniscus and run toward the outer edge of the meniscus, just like a radius of a circle.  If symptoms are persistent you may need arthroscopic surgery but because the tear is toward the center where the meniscus is thin and there is poor blood supply. This means it does not heal well and the surgeon will cut off or clean up the area versus trying to repair it. 

Types of Meniscus tears: Degenerative

Meniscus tears can also occur over time from wear and tear of normal activities. This will normally cause fraying along the inner circle where the meniscus is thinner. Many people will have degenerative meniscus tears without any symptoms, others may have intermittent symptoms with episodes of pain a few times a year. Depending on the severity of these types of meniscus tears surgery is normally not necessary and it can often be treated by conservative measures such rest, ice, steroid injections, and physical therapy. 

Written By: Ehren Allen DPT, COMT

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